A retired Marine who also happens to be one of the most powerful defense lawmakers, Rep. Jack Murtha, has begun raising questions about the future of the Osprey MV-22 The chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee said that he plans to go down to Camp Lejeune in the next few weeks to do a reality check. Thats where Im going to find out what the hell is happening, the ever-blunt Murtha said.
The military tends to give you nothing but optimistic portrayals, he added. They have been telling me the V-22 was doing fine. Well, not so much, as was made clear at yesterdays hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The Osprey does face severe maintenance problems, Murtha said, adding that they are to be expected in the early stages of an aircrafts deployment.
While he said its just too early to know just what to do about the aircraft, Murtha also made pretty clear that he does not think it necessary to shut down production of the MV-22, as his colleague, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said yesterday. At this point we are committed and we have to go forward with the V-22, he said.
Meanwhile, the Marines began their counterattack designed to rescue the hostage MV-22. I spoke for about an hour this afternoon with Lt. Col. Rob Freeland, an Osprey pilot with about 1,000 hours on the plane.
He made it very clear that the Marines are doing everything they can to bring down maintenance costs. The GAO report presented at yesterdays hearing claimed the current cost per flight hour of the MV-22 today is over $11,000more than double the target estimate and 140 percent higher than the cost for the CH-46E. Freeland said the flying hour cost for the B model the plane that is flying in combat is closer to $9,700 and will come down over the next two to four years as the Marines implement a range of engineering change orders and craft a maintenance contract.
Among the engineering changes the Marines have recently made to save money, Freeland listed infrared suppressor panels. We used to replace those at $110,000 a piece. Thats because we didnt expect them to break, he said. Now the service is repairing them for $10,000 per unit. In addition, they have developed $10,000 repair procedures for flaperons that they used to replace $280,000 a pop. And Coanda valves will be repaired for $5,000 instead of replacing them for $27,000.
We know we are on a path that will get us there, to lower maintenance costs, he said. The performance based maintenance contract currently being negotiated will lead to the longest lasting and most substantial savings over time, he predicted. Due to be signed in 2010, that contract should start showing substantial savings after three years.
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-- Colin Clark